On a warm summer night in 1974, a woman sat in the passenger seat of her date’s car as he drove her home after an evening spent grabbing sodas together in the U-District.
The woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, recalls him seeming nearly perfect — a handsome, articulate recent UW psychology graduate with future plans of attending law school. The two chitchatted as they drove down the road in his light-brown, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle.
At the time, only one thing about him struck her as a bit unsettling.
“I remember looking down at his hands, and his fingernails were chewed down to the quick,” the woman said. “It struck me as kind of odd, that somebody who was that charming and handsome would have fingernails like that.”
Little did she know on that night, that her date, whose name was Ted Bundy, would later confess to murdering at least 36 women and become known as one of the most notorious serial killers of all time.
Bundy’s bug was where he trapped many of his victims — often handcuffing them, knocking them out with a crowbar and then driving them off to a secluded location to meet their death.
But years before he was convicted of these homicides, Bundy was a student at the UW.
Joseph Weis teaches Sociology of Murder at the UW, and discusses Bundy’s killing history as one of the course topics. He noted that students are often interested in learning specifically about Bundy’s story.
“Most people who kill someone else tend to have a reason that you and I can understand,” Weis said. “But with serial killers, for whatever reason, it seems that the act of violence is somehow gratifying, it gives them a rush of something.”
Weis said that another reason his students may be so fascinated by Bundy is because this killer in particular once walked through the bricks of Red Square, just like any other student.
“[Bundy] blended in like a lot of guys on campus, and he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb,” Weis said. “I tell my students, ‘Hey, you don’t know, there might be someone sitting in this classroom right now who is the next Ted Bundy.’ But it’s so rare, it’s highly unlikely.”
In the fall of 1966, he enrolled as a transfer from the University of Puget Sound. With plans to study intensive Chinese, he chose to dorm in McMahon Hall in a cluster specifically set aside for Chinese and Japanese studies majors.
One of his clustermates was Larry Foster, a senior that year.
“[He was a] normal guy, good dresser, very personable,” Foster said of Bundy in an email. “His [quirks] were no greater than those of others.”
Foster remembers his roommate as a staunch Republican, with a love of skiing and yet undecided on a career path. Foster would occasionally offer Bundy words of advice about his future after graduating.
“I suggested the military as a place to get some further skills and then see what he wanted to do,” Foster said.
Crime writer Ann Rule, who knew Bundy during his years at the UW, remembered him working odd jobs during college to support himself, including stocking shelves at Safeway and working at a local department store as a shoe clerk.
“He worked a lot of menial jobs, and I know he was stealing at the time, but no one knew it,” she said. “Yes, he was poor, but he conned a lot of people, he told lies.”
That year in McMahon, Bundy also met his first girlfriend, Stephanie Brooks. Rule said she was an attractive, wealthy junior and, like Bundy, an avid skier.
“He was just crazy about her,” Rule said.
The two began a relationship that lasted until Brooks graduated in 1968. When she decided to end things, Bundy was devastated. Many of Bundy’s future murder victims seemed to hold a similar resemblance to Brooks with a slender figure, long, dark, center-parted brown hair and hoop earrings.
Bundy dropped out of college after Brooks graduated and didn’t return until the fall of 1969 as a psychology major. With his new major, he excelled in his classes, became an honors student and was a favorite student among many of his professors.
Ronald Smith, current director of Clinical Psychology Training, taught Bundy as a student in two psychology courses.
“He distinguished himself academically in both courses,” Smith said. “He was extremely bright, always well-dressed, very mature.”
Smith remembers Bundy coming to him with an interest in pursuing an honors thesis on the topic of mental illness and conditional decision making.
“He was a tormented soul in a lot of respects, and psychology would appeal to a person like him,” Smith said. “He was not unusual for a very clever psychopath individual. He was able to inspire confidence in others and provide a very good front. Nobody who interacted with him actually suspected what was going on.”
As part of a requirement for his psychology degree, Bundy began volunteering at the Crisis Clinic — a nonprofit, 24-hour hotline — located at the time in an office building up on Capitol Hill. It was here where he first met and befriended Rule who was a fellow volunteer.
“I thought he was a very nice young man, very smart, very poor,” Rule said. “I used to make him cookies and sandwiches and listen to his problems. But of course, he never gave away any of the rage that was underneath.”
The two worked together over many long nights helping people who would call in for advice with issues including domestic abuse or on suicide. With no reason to be suspicious of the seemingly normal college student answering phones beside her, Rule said she never felt in danger working alone with him.
“I was 10 years older than him, so I was probably kind of like a big-sister figure to him,” she said.
Bundy graduated from the UW in spring 1973 with his psychology degree.
In the summer of 1974, the woman recalls her second and final date with the murderer. As the two drove to a location just past Issaquah toward Tiger Mountain to go river rafting, the woman said he seemed withdrawn and became oddly angry about some nearby road construction.
“It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and there was no traffic on the road and no construction going on, and he went on this big tirade about traffic construction,” she said.
Little did the woman know that just days after their date, Bundy would abduct and murder two local women, and later, remains of his victims would be found near Tiger Mountain.
“The women he picked were strangers, which is typical of a serial killer,” Rule said. “He wanted them to be objects. He had a type, it was the one time I was glad I wasn’t a man’s type.”
Reach reporter Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A brief history
Ted Bundy enters the UW as a transfer student from the University of Puget Sound. During this school year, he met his first girlfriend, Stephanie Brooks.
Brooks ends her relationship with Bundy. Devastated, Bundy drops out of the UW for the rest of the year. Many of his future victims hold a physical resemblance to Brooks.
Bundy re-enters the UW as a psychology major and excels in his courses.
1971 School Year
Bundy begins volunteering at the Seattle Crisis Clinic where he first meets Ann Rule, a fellow volunteer.
Bundy graduates from the UW with honors.
Winter to Summer 1974
Women begin mysteriously disappearing in the Seattle area and around Washington and Oregon college campuses.
Bundy enters the University of Utah Law School. Shortly after his move, women around Utah, Colorado and Idaho begin disappearing.
Bundy is arrested near Salt Lake City for a minor traffic violation. His car is searched and strange items including a ski mask, crowbar, handcuffs and trash bags are found in his 1968 VW Beetle.
After escaping from custody twice, Bundy is arrested for a final time in Florida. He ultimately confesses to the homicide of 30 women but is suspected to possibly be responsible for as many as 100. Bundy is sentenced to death.
Bundy is executed in Florida in the electric chair. Somewere in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, his ashes are scattered.
Source: Ann Rule’s novel “The Stranger Beside Me”
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